I was working on a piece about how modern country club boards resemble the leadership of Rome in their last days—you know, lounging about in togas, unaware of the reality building outside the wall—when I remembered it was almost Halloween. So, from deep in the Rockbottum vault, a previously unreleased Halloween story:
Way back in ’73, on a cold afternoon in late October, I was splitting a mountain of firewood with Old Roy—not to be confused with just plain Roy, the AM radio preacher—and we sat down to take a break. We had a small fire going, not to keep warm—the axe was doing a good job of that—it was more of a keep you company kind of fire. The previous winter’s ice storm had gifted us with the world’s supply of downed trees and Dad decided that since I was near worthless on the golf course crew, maybe I might be a woodsman.
As we sat by the fire, Old Roy pulled out his prized Sherlock Holmes pipe and stuffed it full of a fragrant tobacco I remember as Borkum Riff, lighted it and leaned back to study the trees just beginning to color. “Boy,” he said through a cloud of smoke that smelled like spilled bourbon, “I reckon you being a night waterman, you seen things out there?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “but not what I was looking for.”
Old Roy eyed me like I had said something crazy. “What was you looking for?”
“Flying saucers . . . never did see one.”
“I seen stuff,” Old Roy pointed his pipe stem at me, “and not just everday stuff like UFOs and little spacemen.” I sensed a story coming, because Old Roy had an amazing talent for delaying work with long, convoluted tales . . . a skill I was to develop later in life. At this point, I wasn’t really interested in one of his stories about what it was like to work on a golf course back in 1947 or how he toured with several famous bluegrass bands I had never heard of.
I sensed a story coming, because Old Roy had an amazing talent for delaying work with long, convoluted tales . . . a skill I was to develop later in life.
“Old Roy, if you’re gonna tell me again how we aerify in the fall to release the evil spirits from the greens, I—“
“Son,” he cut me off, anger in his voice, “you ought not to make fun of stuff you don’t understand.”
“I ain’t makin’ fun, Roy, I seen stuff, too, it just wasn’t worth tellin’.”
“Well, like one night on Little Mountain, I was sitting in my Cushman waiting for the greens to finish watering and I saw something sitting on a tee and the more I stared at it, the more it looked like a little man about two feet tall, and he was watching me. When I turned the Cushman headlight on to look at him—he ran off.”
“Hmm.” Old Roy took a deep puff on his pipe, “you ain’t much good at tellin’ stories, son. See, the Cherokees have a world of stories about the little people that infested these forests back before the white man came and ruined things. Them Appalachian mountains is overrun with little people. Add that to your story.”
I sat in silence, considering if I should pick up that axe again, but it was getting near quitting time, not more than an hour away. “I suppose you can do better?” I used my sarcastic teenage tone, which was about like I talk now.
“Yes, I can,” Old Roy wriggled back against a log and assumed his storytelling posture. “Back in ’63, on a real uppity country club north of Atlanta—it was out the woods back then, but now it’s surrounded by concrete—anyway, the club was having a Halloween party, cause they was always havin’ parties, any excuse to dress up, likker up and dance—“ Old Roy stopped to watch Dad’s truck go by on #17, calculating whether we needed to hop back up and axe some, but the truck turned around and headed back toward the front side. I threw another log on the fire.
“Back in ’63, on a real uppity country club north of Atlanta—it was out the woods back then, but now it’s surrounded by concrete—anyway, the club was having a Halloween party...
“So, the Boss Man had already gone home, he was a real religious greenkeeper and he didn’t hold with celebrating devil stuff, and that left just me and Mickey and Roosevelt there to put everything away and lock up. Mickey was a worthless kid, kinda like you but not as bad, and Roosevelt was about 75 years old and he knew how to work. He had grown up choppin’ cotton and workin’ the fields and he had no intention of givin’ up half a day’s pay over mindless doings like Halloween, so there we was.”
“Where you was?” My attention span back then was not something to be proud of.
“Locking up the barn, don’t you listen? That’s when Dr. Morlin—he was the club president—Dr. Morlin drove up in his Cadillac and gave us a bottle of Jack, with the seal still on it, and said he didn’t feel right about them havin’ a big party up to the clubhouse while we did all the work and went unnoticed. So we thanked him and when he left, we sat down on our picnic table by the fire pit and Mickey went and got some Co-Cola to mix with the Jack, and pretty soon, we was havin’ a fine old time.”
“I hope something happens soon in this story.”
“Well, about halfway through the bottle, Sammy the golf pro comes running up out of the dark, from the direction of the clubhouse, where he shoulda been partying with the rich folk, and he’s completely out of breath and all white-eyed and he grabs our bottle and takes a big chug without even asking.”
“Was he a big drinker?” It was getting interesting.
“Not really, but it pissed Roosevelt off, a golf pro putting his mouth on our bottle and all--but then Sammy says something terrible has happened and he was gonna get the blame.”
“Blame for what?”
“He said he was sitting out on number #1 tee bench with Mary Jane Brokawski—she was a dentist’s wife, real purty gal—and Dr. Morlin came up and accused him of cavorting with at least ten member’s wives, eleven if you count Mary Jane. Then Mary Jane slapped Sammy and ran off crying. Sammy said he didn’t see the problem with romancing lonely women, as Dr. Morlin was also engaged in extra-maritals. But Dr. Morlin said that it was different, cause Sammy was just an employee and right then, an icy cold wind blew over them and suddenly . . . there was a spook standing right there beside them!”
“What kinda spook?” I was in BS detecting mode, after all, it was a Halloween costume party.
“An old gray woman, taller than Sammy, and really thin--lean as a lizard. She was wearing gray rags that flapped in the wind—no color to her at all—and she reached out and touched Dr. Morlin with a bony hand . . . and he fell stone dead right there. Sammy like to had a heart attack and ran down number one and he could hear her behind him, rags flappin’ in the wind. He thought he was gonna die and then he saw our fire and came straight to us--when he got close, he couldn’t hear her anymore.”
An old gray woman, taller than Sammy, and really thin--lean as a lizard. She was wearing gray rags that flapped in the wind—no color to her at all—and she reached out and touched Dr. Morlin with a bony hand . . . and he fell stone dead right there.
“Pretty good story. So Sammy killed Dr. Morlin?”
“Naw,” muttered Old Roy, “cause we was sittin’ there lookin’ at Sammy like he was a axe murderer or somethin’, and Abe--that was Roosevelt’s redbone hound--Abe starts growlin’ out toward the fairway, the hair on his back standin' up. We couldn’t see nothin’, but Abe decided he had had enough and he took off runnin' toward the highway, bawling like he was on the scent of a rabbit. That's when a cold wind hit us, blew my hat off and Roosevelt says, “I've had enough, too” and he lights out for home.
“Standing right there about ten feet away was the same old woman Sammy said killed Dr. Morlin. She was eight foot tall and her skin was stretched thin over her bony face, especially when she grinned real big—had lots of teeth—and then she reached out with her hand that seemed to me to be more bone than skin and Mickey yelped like somethin’ had bit him and ran right through the fire to get away and that’s when I fell over the picnic table. Sammy started hollerin’ like he had a siren in his throat and he ran back out on the golf course. When I managed to get back up, I was alone and the fire had blown out . . . but Sammy was still out there somewhere screamin’ in the dark.”
Old Roy knocked his pipe on a log and pointed toward Dad’s truck coming toward us, so we grabbed our axes and went back to splitting wood . . . at least until Dad drove on by. Old Roy dropped his axe and sat back down. “Next morning, Roosevelt found Doc Morlin right where Sammy said, and the Sheriff came and talked to us, but we didn’t say nothing about the spook, so the Sheriff allowed as how it was either a heart attack from drinking or his wife got tired of his runnin’ around and that was the end of it.”
“But what happened to Sammy?”
“Never heard from again,” Old Roy muttered. “But you know how golf pros are . . . he’s probably out there right now, givin’ golf lessons to other folk’s wives—only I expect it’s really hot there.”